In the early afternoon hours the plume began to build and by 3pm, many Santa Barbara residents began to worry once again. Was this the time when the fire would come over the mountain?
As I looked out from my balcony towards the crest of the Santa Ynez crest, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the huge plume that was building directly behind Mission Canyon.
Though I’ve been out on the fire lines for a month and a half, and know from firsthand experience the fire is always way further off than the smoke seems to indicate, I could feel myself caught up in the fear. What if it finally had broken through and was almost on us? Rationally I knew it was not the case: I’d just written a story this morning explaining the fire’s location, the plans for back firing and the hopes for success.
Emotionally, I could feel myself drawn up to the mountaintop, to the smoke, and to the feeling that perhaps, this time, we’d lost it.
‘Of course we hadn’t,’ I told myself as I drove the agonizing 30 minutes of twisting road to the top of Gibraltar Road. I topped out, headed east to the first viewpoint, ready to see the fire raging up the hill. What a surprise – though it shouldn’t have been – the fire was right where I’d put it in this morning’s report, with the additional fact that the back firing had begun.
It was an incredible sight; the far ridge leading from the Mono Creek area to the Monte Arido ridge ablaze with fire. The main fire had been lit well behind the ridges on the north slopes to build the columns we were seeing from town. Once these were building in size, the firing was begun nearer the ridges and within minutes you could see the smoke from the new fires tilting into the main columns and being sucked into them.
The towering plumes were huge and I could see how they would frighten those looking up from town. But within the hour, as the main plumes sucked in everything nearby, the columns began to collapse and what was left were a few spot fires, a slop over or two to be mopped up, and a wide layer of black line that most likely will finally put an end to this fire.
Though the pyrotechnics may have been frightening, they more-than-likely signal the end to our worries about this fire. Tomorrow may be the day the threat of this fire to our densely habited areas can be put to bed. Although the technical term “containment” may be many days away, the likelihood of the fire going beyond the boundaries the crews have created may allow us to rest easy for the first time in a while.
In retrospect, this backfiring operation will go down as historic. Rarely do fire fighters have to put their asset protection strategies on the line in such dramatic fashion — the need to fire out 10 miles of ridge in the middle of nowhere. This battle will be talked about for quite a while. It was epic, and let’s hope it will be remembered as the day the fire fighters saved Santa Barbara.